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Mon City scrap yard fire ruled accidental

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Rick Bruni | The Valley Independent
Carroll Township Assistant Fire Chief Mike Cramer battles a fire at Pitt-Mon Auto Salvage in Monongahela on Friday, April 5, 2013.

A fire that consumed nearly 200 junked cars Friday at a Monongahela scrap yard has been ruled accidental, according to the city's fire chief.

Monongahela Chief Frank Hnatik confirmed Monday the blaze at Pitt-Mon Auto Salvage began when an employee used a cutting torch to remove parts and inadvertently sparked the fire without realizing it.

Hnatik said he met Monday with Monongahela police and the business's owner, Rick Schlieper.

With rows of cars stacked atop each other, the spark likely dropped to the bottom of one of the piles, he said.

“They were probably out cutting something and it wasn't until they went up front or to the office before anyone realized something was on fire,” Hnatik said. “Nobody knew the fire started until they looked out back and saw the smoke.”

Hnatik's ruling eliminated the possibility of arson, which he said was an initial suspicion since people frequently walk along a set of railroad tracks that the border the scrap yard. The tracks sit approximately 15 yards away from where the fire ignited.

Hnatik said he was unable to determine what substance initially ignited from the spark.

“When you're dealing with rubber, plastics and oils, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what burned or what started it,” he said. “By the time they realized it, it was too far gone. When you try to put out a (multiple) car fire with extinguishers and bucket, it's not going to happen.”

Hnatik said approximately 185 junked cars were destroyed and they were not insured. The fire's cost could not be determined, he said, since so many different car parts with varying values were involved.

“I can account for one other fire in that yard and it was years ago and that yard is pretty busy,” Hnatik said. “He took a loss, but we saved a lot of vehicles too, and nobody hurt.”

One Monongahela firefighter was treated for a minor burn on his neck as firefighters from Monongahela, Carroll Township and other stations remained on scent until almost 10 p.m., rounding up equipment and watching for any flame re-ignition common with car fires.

“A lot of people try to keep from calling for the fire department out of embarrassment, but that's what we're there and we're equipped and trained for,” Hnatik said. “A fire department has to be notified quickly so we can be proficient in knocking it down. … All things considered, things went pretty smoothly.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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